Defining moments of the last 20 years of the Phoenix startup community
With a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in greater Phoenix, there always those key moments that ultimately define its development and growth. Although by no means comprehensive, here is a short list (in no particular order) of a few highlights from the last twenty years that have helped shape our city’s exciting startup community.
The foundings of Infusionsoft (2001), GoDaddy (1997)
Let’s start with two of the big dogs here in Arizona: Infusionsoft and GoDaddy. You cannot tell the story of our startup community without mentioning those that were born and bred in our fair state more than 15 years ago. Infusionsoft, a marketing automation platform for small businesses, has been a major player in Chandler for years and has been one of the fastest growing companies, adding 240 jobs in an 18-month period from 2012-2013 (inc.com). Similarly, GoDaddy has become a worldwide brand, known primarily for its domination of the domain registration industry and bold branding. The company has also spun out numerous former employees making a big impact in today’s entrepreneurial world in Phoenix: Jonathan Cottrell (#yesphx); Nima Jacob Nojoumi (Sourcely); Nate Curran (Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation), to name a few. Together, these two organizations have set a standard toward which startup companies can aspire.
The creation of the Arizona Commerce Authority (2010)
In 2010, then-governor Jan Brewer made a declaration that “Arizona is serious about business,” when she announced the creation of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA). From there, the ACA has enveloped the startup world with programs, services and more geared directly toward entrepreneurs (with particular focus in the tech industries). This includes the Arizona Innovation Challenge, a business plan competition that spreads $3 million funding annually to qualified businesses; the Innovation Arizona Summit, in partnership with Arizona SciTech, which centralizes our community innovators and facilitates unique discussions around science, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation; and numerous workshops and events that help build more sustainable companies through education around funding acquisition, business development, and more. Indeed, it was and continues to be a huge presence for our state.
Flinn Foundation unveils its Bioscience Roadmap (2002)
The Flinn Foundation offered a detailed blueprint to grow the biosciences in Arizona back in 2002 with its Bioscience Roadmap, but we can only wonder if they expected the impact it would yield. With broad goals and strategies supplemented by tactical opportunities, the results were impressive in 10 years hence: long-term investments such as the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute and Phoenix Biomedical Campus have cemented their mark on the community; the creation of the Flinn Entrepreneur Program, which awards up to $30,000 in funding to eligible companies to further commercialization efforts, has helped expand entrepreneurial efforts in the biosciences; and the overall increase of job creation in the industry by 45% from 2002-2012 (nearly 4x the national rate) has breathed life into our innovation economy.
When Seed Spot opened its doors (2012)
Seed Spot, a socially-focused incubator in downtown Phoenix, was founded in 2012 with one goal in mind: to change the world through entrepreneurship. Since that time, it has been a galvanizing force for startup supporters and an incredible showcase for innovative social entrepreneurs. The incubator’s bi-annual Demo Day has consistently accumulated 500+ evangelists and innovators and helped develop a congregation of sorts to sing the hymn of entrepreneurship. In addition, Seed Spot has supported ventures who were later featured on the Today Show and who have collectively impacted more than 650,000 lives; moreover, their team has pioneered programs for female, high school and hispanic entrepreneurs. See more inspiring and amazing facts in its 2014/15 annual report here.
Phoenix Startup Week and #yesphx build buzz (2015)
If Seed Spot is the regular season, then Phoenix Startup Week in 2015 was the Super Bowl. Spearheaded by Jonathan Cottrell, more than 2,300 people attended startup-related events in downtown Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale in a concentration of entrepreneurial enthusiasm pretty much unparalleled (until 2016 that is!). What is perhaps most impressive though is the week has spawned an entire movement: #yesphx. This has become a rallying cry for the community and continues to facilitate conversations within the ecosystem about making Phoenix better. We are a more connected community as a result.
The day “It Was Never a Dress” went viral (2015)
Tania Katan and the team from Axosoft, an agile project management - scrum software company, created a singular image to breed discussions about gender issues in tech and business. Debuted at Girls in Tech’s Catalyst Conference in April, “It was never a dress” became a statement of empowering today’s female innovators; but what started as a local campaign blew up into an international sensation...with just one tweet. Huffington Post, Today.com, TIME all picked up the story, and made Axosoft and Katan superstars. But visibility is just one side of this tale - Axosoft has since created a platform whereby it encourages the community to share their experiences. The company also takes all proceeds of merchandise sales to provide a scholarship opportunity at Arizona State University for a “need-based student entering a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) field.”
This effort has come on the heels of CO+HOOTS Foundation Code Day and other STEM/STEAM-related events aimed at youths and women to nurture their technological and entrepreneurial aspirations.
Venture Madness highlights startup talent (2014)
Pitting 64 of the region’s best and brightest companies in an all-out battle for startup supremacy is bound to generate some excitement. That is exactly what Invest Southwest’s “Venture Madness” competition brought to our ecosystem in 2014. It became a platform for entrepreneurs to earn a cash prize and significant local and national media exposure. For instance, Pinnacle Transplant Technologies, the inaugural winner, has experienced continued growth since taking home the prize - the regenerative biologics company is now up to 80 employees and generating $1.5 million per month in revenue. The event is quite simply an awesome accumulation of startup talent. Side note: Invest Southwest is chaired by Mario Martinez II, one of the most important DOERS in our ecosystem - he’s probably worthy of his own category.
ASU Skysong breaks new ground for university entrepreneurship (2008)
According to Don Pierson (How Arizona is becoming a hotbed for tech startups, Venture Beat), ASU began to focus on its entrepreneurial programs sometime around 2007 which ultimately led to the opening of SkySong Innovation Center in 2008. With the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, its co-operated Furnace Accelerator, Startup Mill, and other offerings, it is pretty easy to see why ASU really appears to have entrepreneurship covered on numerous fronts. Strong ecosystems need university connections to solidify its position as a hub for entrepreneurship, and Arizona is actually lucky to have a presence in all three “corners” - ASU, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University, all of which have varying degrees of presence throughout the state and all of which are devoted to cultivating a strong startup culture.
What other moments have been critical to growth of our ecosystem? Tell us in the comments below!